Community leaders condemned the “barbaric killings” on Saturday as Canberra Muslims gathered to comfort each other and pray at mosques across the capital, while several non-Muslims visited the mosques to show unity and lay flowers.
Those who came to pay their respects at the Gungahlin Mosque included a 16-year-old girl who burst into tears while expressing her sympathies and Christchurch man Paul Bradley, who was in Canberra visiting his daughter and lives streets away from where the attacks took place.
Imam Mohammad Atae Rabbi Hadi, who learned of the attacks after leading prayers in Fyshwick on Friday, said he was “absolutely heartbroken”.
The NSW/ACT spokesman for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association said there was naturally a sense of fear in his congregation after the terrorist incidents.
He urged Australians to “change the narrative and stand together for love” and help allay the Islamic community’s fears by focusing on the many similarities different cultures and religions shared.
Imam Hadi said the New Zealand attacks were particularly hard to come to terms with because they happened in a part of the world that prided itself on freedom of religion and expression.
“One motto that we always go by in the Ahmadiyya Muslim community is ‘Love for all, hatred for none’, and we need to really start understanding that at the end of the day, we’re all human,” he said.
“It doesn’t matter what faith, what race or what background you’re from. We bleed the same blood and we need to start understanding that and moving forward with our shared human experience.”
Gungahlin Mosque and Canberra Muslim Community Incorporated president Mainul Haque echoed that sentiment.
Mr Haque said his congregation was comforted by the overwhelming support shown by everyday Canberrans, other religious communities, the police and local politicians.
“At the end of the day, we are fellow Canberrans and fellow Australians,” he said.
“We have a different culture, a different religion, but diversity is good. It brings richness. It is very reassuring and humbling to have all this support from our neighbours and friends in Canberra and in the region.”
Mr Haque said Canberra was a beautiful and multicultural community that should remain that way, and commended the prime ministers of Australia and New Zealand for “calling a spade a spade” and referring to the Christchurch incidents as terror attacks.
“We condemn terrorism in all its forms, regardless of its source,” he said.
“Terrorism has no religion and no homeland.”
Canberra woman Meherun Nisa, a Muslim mother of three, said explaining Friday’s events to frightened children had been difficult.
She said her focus was on educating the next generation that everyone was equal.
“Many Muslim children were born here and we need to make them realise they are just as Aussie as everyone else, and that the mosque is still a safe place to go to.”
ACT Policing has stepped up patrols around mosques in Canberra, but advised the Muslim community there was no current threat.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr joined political leaders in condemning the attacks on Saturday, saying there was no place in the capital for the abhorrent views apparently behind the New Zealand attacks.
“We, as Canberrans, know our city is a progressive and inclusive place to live, and that diversity has enriched our city,” Mr Barr said.
“There is no place here for the abhorrent views apparently behind this attack. All Canberrans have a right to feel safe in their places of worship. We stand with our Muslim community members at this time and offer our ongoing support.”
Multicultural Affairs Minister Chris Steel said he would visit a mosque in Canberra during the week to reassure the Muslim community that Canberra stood for inclusion, while Deputy Chief Minister Yvette Berry visited Gungahlin Mosque on Saturday afternoon.
ACT Opposition leader Alistair Coe also expressed his support.
“I hope we can all support the brothers and sisters in the Muslim community at this very sad time,” Mr Coe said.
Australian Brenton Tarrant, who authorities believe to be responsible for both Christchurch mosque shootings, has been charged with murder. The 28-year-old appeared in court in New Zealand on Saturday and was remanded in custody until April 5.
The attacks have rocked the world, and for the Muslim community and Christchurch residents like Paul Bradley, who wiped away tears at Gungahlin Mosque on Saturday, their effects will be felt forever.
“My reaction [to the attacks] was just disbelief,” Mr Bradley said.
“It’s still just so raw, just like what we felt after the earthquakes.”
Blake Foden is a reporter at the Sunday Canberra Times. He has worked as a journalist in Australia, New Zealand and the UK.
Kimberley Le Lievre is the Editor of The Sunday Canberra Times